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Fall 2014
Sky Report: Primary Schools
by Dr. Bob Doyle, Portable Planetarium Teacher

Resources for Primary School Teachers

Fall (Oct. - Dec.) 2014 Primary School Sky Basics

On a clear night, ½ of the universe is visible from your backyard! The night sky appears dark because space is mostly empty and the universe is expanding (growing in size). The night stars are distant suns that are much, much further away than our sun, our home star. The closest heavenly body to us is our moon, which goes around the Earth about every 27 days. With our eyes, we can see grey patches on the moon, which are huge lava plains that hardened and cooled in moon's early history. As the moon orbits Earth, it is lit up by the sun. The moon has a day side and a night side, just like our Earth. When moon appears skinny, we are mainly seeing its night or dark side. When the moon appears full or nearly full, we are viewing mostly the moon's day side. The nearest planets appear as bright, steady points of light. Mercury and Venus with their small orbits, always appear close to the sun, either in the eastern dawn or western dusk. The three outer planets that may be seen at any time of the night are Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

At most a few thousand stars can be seen on a dark, moonless night. These stars are close by neighbors to our sun within our vast galaxy that has many more stars than the billions of people alive on Earth.

Fall 2014 Skies (October, November & December) for Primary Grades

October evenings will only have the planet Mars in view, low in the western dusk. Mars is on the far side of its orbit so it is rather dim, easily taken to be a star. Towards the end of November, brilliant Venus creeps out of the western twilight and will be prominent at the holidays of December. In December, Jupiter can be seen late in the evening in the East as a bright steady point. The moon is full on October 7th, November 6th and December 6th. But the best time to view the moon through binoculars is when it is half full in the evening sky, about the start of each of the fall months (October, November and December.)Then along the straight edge of the moon, the sun is rising, lighting up the crater rims and mountain peaks. The best star group on November evenings is Taurus in the East. Taurus features the 7 Sisters or Pleiades star cluster, resembling a tiny dipper. The Pleiades were the daughters of Atlas, the strongman who held the world on his shoulders. On a clear, moonless night, you may be able to count 6 or 7 stars in this group; you then have excellent far vision. Binoculars may reveal over a dozen 'sisters'. On December evenings, the best star group is Orion, the Hunter with his three star belt. The line made by this belt and extended up and to the right will take you to the 7 Sisters. This is no accident as Orion each winter evening pursues the 7 Sisters across the sky, never getting a foot closer.

The brightest points in the evening sky are the white-blue star Vega and the golden star Capella. Vega is part of the brightest star group, the Summer Triangle. Early on fall evenings, the Summer Triangle is in western sky with Vega at the lower right corner of the Triangle. The bright golden star Capella is in the Northeast, climbing higher as the evening hours pass. To the right of Capella is the Pleiades or 7 Sisters. High in the North is Cassiopeia resembling a stretched out letter "M".

For additional information, contact:

Dr. Robert Doyle, Planetarium Director
Frostburg State University
Department of Physics and Engineering
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-1099
(301) 687-4270






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